When I used to play World of Warcraft – happy nights, even if not the best for my writing – I would name all of my characters by an allusion. So, I named a night elf priest, Paracelsus (Paracelsus was taken); another character, Minnerva, and two historical figures wandered through Azeroth, False Dmitri, the pretender tsar of the early 17th century, and Possevino, the Jesuit priest whose mission to Moscow in 1582 encountered Tsar Ivan groznyi, as he wailed in grief at the murder of his son. I even created a guild, Allusions of Azeroth, to gather my names and legends together. I played the game as a form of literary invention, with these tokens of belonging to an infinite conversation wandering the alternative universe in search of seeking itself.
So too, in both reading and writing, I enjoy the webs of signifance that allusions weave. Memorising poetry heightens this pleasure, and fills my head with echoes and notes of humanity’s great incantations. The more poems you know by heart, the more common the pleasure. So yesterday, as I learnt by heart Shelley’s Ozymandias, I found the source of Fernandez-Armesto’s chapter title, lone and level sands. Fernandez-Armesto delights in his allusions, defying his tormented editors, but showing greater respect to his readers.
Allusiveness is a more light-footed dance than dull pedantry, which prefers to bore, rather than banter. It is more than ceaseless quotation, and requires a more versatile repertoire. Reading Bloom’s Anatomy of influence, I discover a typology of this lifeblood of literature, borrowed in turn from Hollander’s Figure of echo (itself an allusion):
“Hollander avoids distinguishing between intended and what I might call unruly allusions, and divides allusion in Milton and after into five types of echo: acoustical, allegorical, schematic, metaphorical, and metaleptic, illuminating this last mode with a marvelous excursus upon Angus Fletcher’s trope of transumption, which I tend to call the Galileo syndrome.” Bloom, Anatomy of influence
This last mode means the use of a figure of speech in a new context – and is this not a favoured device in entitling a blog post? – and shows how allusion need not only be the preserve of the erudite and the bookish. It is a game we all can play. It is life in literature. It is the great chain of being revealed in language.
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